Dinah has been a teacher with SUKA Society’s Empowered 2 Teach program for 2 years, since January 2014. The community preschool she runs is in a small Orang Asli village named Kampung Sungai Poh, with a population of 200 people. The school has 24 students between the ages of 4-6, including those who come for tuition. This is actually the village where Dinah is from – which is one of the main reasons she decided to leave her old job to return.
Prior to her work in Kampung Sungai Poh, Dinah had been working at a nursery school in Kuala Lumpur for 8 years. While she enjoyed her job, she had an ever-present desire to help her own people. At the time when she was considering how to best do this, her son was at the age where he would have to be enrolled in a nursery himself. When her family, who had moved to Kuala Lumpur with her, decided that they wanted to leave and move back to the village, Dinah also made the decision that she did not want her son attending a kindergarten in Kuala Lumpur and would rather take him back to her village home.
This is when Dinah first heard about SUKA Society through a friend in her village. By partnering the Orang Asli community, they hope to setup a preschool in her village. Preschool education is a much needed level of education among the Orang Asli population. Otherwise, children would have to start their primary school without being able to read or write. This puts them at an immediate disadvantage to the other children and increases their drop out rates later on.
Dinah felt particularly called to this work because, being from this village herself, she knew firsthand the importance of preschool education. She talked about how difficult her own experience was growing up, as teachers could not afford to spend extra time with weaker students when the majority was a level ahead.
“Coming from an Orang Asli background, these children are immediately born into a limited environment. Therefore I wanted to do whatever I could to create more opportunities for them.”
Compared to her work in Kuala Lumpur, Dinah says that her job now is significantly more difficult. She is the only teacher for these students, and therefore her job requires much more energy. At her old nursery, if she needed a break she could trust that one of the other teachers could take over. However, in this school she must be self-reliant. Another difficulty in working with her own community is that the majority of the children’s parents cannot read and write. This makes homework a challenging task when the students do not have help. However, one thing that Dinah emphasizes is that the potential of the students in both schools she has taught in is exactly the same.
As for the parents of her students, they are fully behind this endeavor. Although they did not have this opportunity when they were younger, they are grateful that their children can now experience this. At the end of the year, they can really see all that their children have learned and accomplished, and they are overjoyed at this. Dinah has cried on more than one occasion after a conversation with parents expressing how thankful they are.
One of the main ways Dinah has said she would like to see Empower 2 Teach grow is by having more indigenous teachers. This is because they can understand and cater to the strengths and weaknesses of the children more easily, as well as communicate with both the children and parents. However, she believes this is a great start, and is grateful to SUKA Society for the chance to give back to her own community.